Iranians win legal battle with Britain

Court rules that resistance group is not terrorist

May 08, 2008|By New York Times News Service.

LONDON -- After a seven-year legal battle, Britain's Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that the British government was wrong to put an Iranian resistance group, the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, on its list of banned terrorist groups.

Spokesmen for the group, which means People's Holy Warriors, said the ruling appeared to leave Britain's interior minister, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, with no further legal recourse but to lay an order before parliament striking the group from a list of more than 20 proscribed terror organizations under Britain's Terrorism Act.

The court's ruling denied the government's bid to carry the appeal further, seemingly closing off recourse to Britain's supreme appellate body, the so-called Law Lords. But there was no immediate word from the British government on what it planned to do.

In 2002, the People's Mujahedeen provided intelligence on Iran's secret efforts to enrich uranium that led to U.N. sanctions against the country and a confrontation with the West that continues to this day. But the group also has a record of making claims that were either unverifiable or erroneous.

In the midst of jubilant celebrations among the Iranian group's supporters in London, Paris and Iraq, where 3,800 members of the Mujahedeen have lived since 2003 under U.S. military guard at a vast desert encampment outside Baghdad, the group said it would seek to overturn a similar listing as a terrorist group by the 27 nations of the European Union.

Spokesmen for the group said there was no further justification for the European ban, since it had been imposed in 2002 on the basis of the 2001 finding against the Mujahedeen by Britain.

A three-judge panel led by Lord Nicholas Phillips, Britain's Lord Chief Justice, said in a written ruling that there was "no reasonable prospect of success" for Smith, the home secretary, in going further with the government's appeal against a November 2007 finding by the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission, a quasi-judicial body that rules on appeals by banned groups.

In effect, the appeals court upheld the claims by lawyers for the group that it had complied with its own renunciation of violence in 2000, when it announced it would no longer carry out terrorist attacks and would concentrate on peaceful opposition to the government in Tehran.

"The only conclusion that a reasonable decision-maker could reach," the court said, was that since the disarmament of the People's Mujahedeen and allied groups in Iraq by American forces in 2003, the group "has not taken any steps to acquire or seek to acquire further weapons or to restore any military capability in Iraq."

The Mujahedeen, the judges said, "has not sought to recruit personnel for military-type or violent activities," nor had it engaged in "military-type training of its existing members" or sought to support other groups in attacks on Iranian targets.

The People's Mujahedeen is also on the United States' list of banned terror groups, and Bush administration officials have said in the past that they have no plans to lift the ban. But if Britain, and later Europe, lift their bans, the group would be able to use its legalization as a basis for raising money and organizing resistance to the ruling ayatollahs in Iran.

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